Plastic boats make bath time fun. But if your little captain is up for a real-deal nautical adventure, steer the entire family to Tall Ships Chicago 2016. The event, which last visited the Pier in 2013, invites you to board and explore massive historic ships. Read on to hear how from July 27-31, your family can view these beauties that alternate between being docked to setting out on Lake Michigan for beautiful parade-like processions.

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The event’s deep look into maritime culture leaves even the youngest of explorers dreaming of centuries-old sailors traveling to distant ports, harvesting the wind in their sails while battling the sea’s unpredictable moods. Excitement in the air runs high, so make the most of it. Here’s what you need to know to make your visit to Tall Ships Chicago a success.

Kick Things Off
The whole shebang starts with an Opening Ceremony at Navy Pier’s east end and the Parade of Sail, a stunning spectacle featuring all 14 Tall Ships and other maritime vessels, on Wednesday, July 27. Your best lookout point is the Pier’s boardwalk (i.e. Dock Street).

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Learn About the Ships
Tours of the ships give insight into how and why these ships were built. The vessels are maintained and captained by an array of non-profits, cities and organizations with missions as inspiring as the ships themselves. Some were born from a desire to endear others to appreciate the history of maritime culture, while others are part of sailing schools and training grounds for underprivileged youth to help build confidence, self-esteem and teamwork.

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Among the vessels, you’ll find a diverse selection, from one commissioned by General Patton to a replica of an authentic viking ship. The stories are endless and the history nothing short of intriguing.

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Enjoy a Flashy Nightcap
Cap off this explosion of sailing and watch the Navy Pier fireworks display. The show is visible from the south side of the Pier and is held Wednesday through Saturday during the festival. Make it that much more memorable by scheduling yourself to be aboard one of the ships during the fireworks.

Buy Tickets
For $10 general admission (2 and under are free) guests can walk the festival grounds and take in the sights from land. If you’d like to get a closer view of what life is like as a crew member, Dockside Boarding tickets are available for $25/adults and $15/kids (ages 3 to 12); these tickets allow you to actually climb aboard the ships and look around. To really see what all the scuttlebutt is all about, book your family (only ages 3 and above) on a Sail Away Cruise ($79/person) on one of the participating ships.

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What are you waiting for? Anchors away!  Be sure to check out Navy Pier’s new Ferris Wheel while you’re there!

Tall Ships Chicago 2016
July 27-31
Navy Pier
600 E. Grand Ave.
312-595-7437
Tickets and more info online: navypier.com

Have you been to Tall Ships Chicago? What do you think of it? Let us know in the Comments section below.

— Maria Chambers

Photos: Courtesy of Navy Pier